FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Once Tom Brady gets their offense rolling, the New England Patriots are tough to stop.
Some of the NFL’s top teams — Denver, Detroit, Cincinnati and Indianapolis — all lost to the AFC champions by at least 22 points.
Now the Patriots are in the Super Bowl against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, whose four losses were by a total of 22 points.
“This is an incredible defensive unit,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “They can take the ball away from you. They can get to the quarterback. They can stop the run. It will be an incredible challenge.”
The Seahawks, with the NFL’s best defense, could stage their second straight Super Bowl blowout, having beaten the Broncos 43-8 last year.
Pretty close to the Patriots’ 45-7 pasting of the Colts in Sunday’s AFC title game.
“It feels great to impose your will on a team,” wide receiver Brandon LaFell said in a clubhouse filled with smiles, “and that’s what we did all night.”
The route to the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 takes the Patriots to Glendale, Arizona, where they’ll try for their fourth NFL title and first in 10 years.
“The coaches prepare us for whatever we need to get the win,” fullback James Develin said.
Even if it involves him catching a 1-yard touchdown pass, his 11th reception in 37 NFL games, as he did Sunday.
Or offensive tackle Nate Solder being eligible in that game to catch a 16-yard scoring pass, the first reception in his four seasons.
Or having backup offensive lineman Cameron Fleming line up as an eligible receiver nearly 30 times against Indianapolis.
“I certainly think it’s been a staple of our team that, when we need a play, different guys have stepped up all year long and we’ve been able to produce points to win games,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “It’s not how you get those points. It’s just having them.”
And they’ve had plenty.
In consecutive games, the Patriots beat Cincinnati 43-17 and Buffalo 37-22.
After a 27-25 squeaker over the New York Jets, the runaways resumed — 51-23 over Chicago, 43-21 over Denver, 42-20 over Indianapolis and 34-9 over Detroit.
In those 20-plus-point wins, the Patriots scored on their first six possessions against Chicago, three of their first four of the second half against Denver, all four of the second half against Indianapolis before running out the clock and four in a row to end the first half against Detroit.
“It’s not realistic for us to expect to continue to blow teams out like that or, I don’t want to say blow out, but win by a large margin,” Slater said after beating the Lions. “I can’t really put my finger on what it is. I think it’s a culmination of things and preparation, I think, is at the forefront of that.”
In the next six games, there was just one trouncing: 41-13 over Miami.
That was nearly the last one — until they overcame two 14-point deficits to beat the Baltimore Ravens 35-31 in the AFC divisional playoffs.
That narrow victory gave them a chance for a bigger one.
The Colts were about to be crushed again.
Leading 17-7 at halftime, the Patriots scored touchdowns on their first four possessions of the second half and had their eighth win of the season by at least 22 points.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman credited the coaches for the team’s offensive rhythm.
“They scheme up the plays,” he said. “They go with what the feel is.”
The high-scoring roll began with a 43-17 win over Cincinnati the week after a 41-14 drubbing by Kansas City left the Patriots at 2-2. Beating the Bengals launched them on a 7-1 run, with five of those games against playoff teams.
“It seemed like every team was at the top of their division and playing really well. In the end, it probably served us well,” coach Bill Belichick said. “It was a very competitive schedule. Our guys had to prepare and work really hard every week to be ready for those challenges. They did that.”
Now there’s just one left.
“There are 32 teams that started. There are two remaining,” Brady said. “We’re trying to be the one that finishes off the season the way you want to.”